Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Communicators of 2011

Tawakel Karman

It has been a year of upheaval and change in many Muslim states around the world. Despite the great changes which we have witnessed, the role of women hasn’t been as great as one might have hoped or expected, apart from in Yemen. Tawakel Karman became the international face of the uprising in Yemen which was part of the ‘Arab Spring’.

While Yemenis refer to Karman as the ‘Iron Woman’ and the ‘Mother of the Revolution’ her influence has been recognised far from Yemen itself. She is a co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman, and the second Muslim woman to win a Nobel Prize and the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate ever.

She has recognised that there are multiple channels for her message of change, embracing traditional and modern techniques. She has led mass demonstrations; met with senior politicians such as Hillary Clinton; written articles for international newspapers including the New York Times and The Guardian; as well as taking steps such as rejecting the traditional niqab in favour of more colourful hijabs that showed her face and challenged some long held views on Islam. Above all she has remained focused on the aim of taking her message out to the world to deliver change.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

As we move into The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year the royal family enjoys considerable support from the British public. The Queen and her family have also made a significant and positive impact on many other parts of the world – and not just across the Commonwealth. The dark days of The Queen’s ‘annus horribilis’ and the death of Princess Diana are in the past, with the royal family learning from these, and other, mistakes.

At the forefront of the modern royal family are the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who have consistently communicated with sparkling brilliance while under intense scrutiny. Their fairytale wedding captured the imagination of the world, representing and showcasing Britain at its very best. They have also undertaken an increasing number of public engagements including tours to America and Canada as well as a visit to Denmark. Prince William also visited Australia and New Zealand earlier in the year as those countries coped with natural disasters.

Whatever the occasion they both communicate well and are able to make connections with the people they meet. On top of this Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, has quickly emerged as a global style icon taking the royal family to an audience it hasn’t reached since the days of Princess Diana.

David Cameron

It has been an inconsistent year for the Prime Minister his critics would say, while his supporters may merely point to events being the rhythm to which a Prime Minister must set his tune. While the necessity to balance the demands of a coalition agreement with the desire for a different direction from his own party muffles his tune to some degree, there have been some strong moments for David Cameron in 2011.

There are times when the Prime Minister is at his best which includes interacting with people in a genuine and caring way that was so alien to his predecessor. Cameron is also a great media performer and strong under pressure.

It is this last attribute that sees him make this list; his performance at and immediately after the EU summit in mid-December was striking. He led: communicating with real verve his and the UK’s undoubted position.  This moment shook the other EU leaders but also the British people. The aftermath saw the Conservative Party take a lead in some opinion polls and people question the future of the leader of the opposition.

The way he communicated helped to re-cast Cameron in the tabloid media as a British hero made of the same stuff as Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher. This was funny as, in the days prior to the summit, he was being described as weak and not dissimilar to Neville Chamberlain.

Steve Jobs

In many ways this is an honorary award for the impact Jobs had in changing the way we all communicate. However, even this year, just weeks before he died, he was delivering one of his classic keynote presentations which looked into the future, telling us how many are going to live, and work and share information.

To communicate effectively an individual must have passion for what they are saying, this was never a problem for Steve Jobs who took those who watched him speak on a journey of discovery. These events were as exciting to some as the products he was promoting. He was meticulously rehearsed and should be seen as a role model for anyone who wants to get noticed through their presentations.

We all know the technology which he helped introduce to the world but if his presentations can, hopefully, be the catalyst for fewer PowerPoint presentations then his service to mankind will grow even further.

Christine Lagarde

Christine Lagarde is the French President many world leaders wish they were dealing with. Out of the chaos of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, at the IMF Lagarde has brought clarity and directness to the organisation and its communications.

She has put the IMF at the centre of finding solutions to the ongoing world economic crisis and shows a refreshing level of impatience with the reluctance of others to make decisions. She is able to communicate in a way that grabs the attention of seasoned economists and tabloid journalists alike through a keen eye for a sound bite, without ever being shrill or over the top.

Sound bites, often belittled by those critical of modern political communication, are a crucial tool in setting an agenda or shaping the political narrative. With today's fast moving news stream, based around social media and 24 hour news, a great sound bite can resonate around the world in minutes. Whether through an ad-hoc doorstep interview, a TV appearance or a set-piece speech Lagarde always delivers.

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